July 20, 2011
Today, we had a visitor, author and youth development expert Michael Thompson. He is wrote the New York Times best-selling book “Raising Cain” with Dan Kindlon that was turned into a PBS documentary in 2006. He has also written several other best sellers.
Why is he at Camp Champions? He is currently writing a book about camp called “Homesick and Happy” and is doing research for it.
Michael and I both serve on the board of the American Camp Association and have become good friends. He, like us here at CC, is fascinated with the growth opportunities of the summer camp experience.
One of his observations is the fact that we cannot “make” our children independent or “teach them” to be independent. By definition, independence comes from being independent. Parents “let” their children leach independence.
He met with our Senior Campers (the high school leadership program) and ask them to describe what camp has done for them. Two campers had very different answers.
One said that camp helped her to learn to appreciate her parents. At close proximity, she found herself rebelling a bit. But away from home, she grew to understand her folks better. Also, being responsible for younger campers for several hours a day has helped her know what it is like to be responsible for other people.
The very next person had a very different take. He was a 22 year old that is a counselor to the Senior Campers. He stressed that he always had a great relationship with his parents, but that he was actually overly focused on pleasing them. He would make decisions by asking “what will make them happy” rather than “what is right for me”. These two different approaches generally yielded the same answer, but the latter mindset enabled him to grow more as an adult.
Perhaps my favorite answer was a high school man who shared the following:
“At school, I often find myself wearing masks to fit in. At camp, I love the freedom to be exactly the way I want to be and know that I will be loved. For years, I had my ‘camp self’ and my ‘school self’. I think the Senior Camper program has helped me take this to another level. Now, my camp self is merging into my school self. I am my real self all the time now.”
I just loved hearing this.
Michael also shared the thoughts from a speaker he recently heard: Yong Zhao , the Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon. Prof Zhao had the following observation. There is a group of Chinese students that are being taught how to take the SAT. They travel from the mainland to Hong Kong and a substantial number of them will get perfect scores.
Students like this (who have been shown to be extraordinary test takers) are generally not very successful later in life. Prof Zhao (who is from China himself) says that they lack the ability to improvise or adapt. He says that they would benefit from more Talent Shows. Talent Shows, according to him, are a uniquely American institution that encourages individuals to try new skills and share them. This is different from the recital. It is a celebration of creativity and risk-taking.
Camp is a place of talent shows and skit nights. I love days where we have to improvise due to weather or other sudden changes. I watch as counselors modify a plan in 5 minutes and then execute it with the conviction one would associate with a week of planning. In a world that is characterized by rapid changes, having the ability to adapt and thrive in change is a nice asset to develop.
He left at 11 tonight after our counselor meeting. As he left, he asked to address the counselors. His comments were brief, but he clearly understood what we value as a community. He thanked us for making him feel welcomed. He thanked us for sharing our stories. Finally, he thanked us for creating an atmosphere that is palpably positive and caring.